Understanding Yarn Weights

Standards and Systems

Yarn
Yarns of Different Weights. Sarah E. White

When you go into a yarn shop or crafts store, it's easy to be overwhelmed by all the choices. Which yarn is right for your project? Most people stick to the exact type (and even the color!) of yarn suggested in the pattern, but that's not much fun. While every yarn isn't perfect for every project, learning a few simple things will allow you a lot more creativity in your choices. 

As long as you understand some things about yarn weights you'll be able to have much more freedom in what yarns you use for projects.

 

The Standard Yarn Weight System

Yarn weight refers to the thickness of the yarn. It's a range, from super fine to super bulky. There are six different categories of yarn weights, and according to the Craft Yarn Council, specific weights of yarn should produce a somewhat predictable number of stitches when using a particular sized needle.

The higher the number, the heavier the yarn and the fewer stitches per inch you will get.

Further reading: Does Ply Have Anything to Do with Yarn Weight?

Why Standards Matter

This is where knitting gets fun. If you know that every bulky yarn is going to give you around the same number of stitches (in this case, 12 to 15 stitches in four inches on size 9 to 11 needles) and you have a pattern that uses bulky yarn and size 10 needles, you can buy any kind of bulky yarn and get a similar result.

It is, of course, essential that you knit up a gauge swatch before you start work on a project that involves sizing because not all yarns of a certain weight are exactly the same.

The difference between 12 stitches per four inches and 15 stitches is still pretty huge when you're trying to make a sweater fit.

Determining Yarn Weight

Most yarn manufacturers make it easy for you to determine the weight of a particular yarn. Many of the mass-produced yarns use the yarn standards ranking system and will have the number and weight printed right on the label.

Other manufacturers don't make it as easy, but they should have a gauge statement that will say something like "24 stitches and 22 rows per four inches on size four needles." If you know a little bit about yarn weights (which you will when you consult the chart below) you'll know that the yarn in question is sport weight. 

Yarn Weights

Yarn Weight1: Super Fine2: Fine3: Light4: Medium5: Bulky6: Super Bulky7: Jumbo
Yarns in CategoryBaby, Fingering, SockBaby, SportDK, Light, WorstedAfghan, Aran, WorstedChunky, Craft, RugBulky, RovingJumbo, Roving
Needle Size (US)1-33-55-77-99-1111-1717 and up (or arms)
Average stitches per 4 inches27-3223-2621-2416-2012-157-116 and fewer

 

Source: Yarn Standards

If you're still having trouble figuring out a yarn weight the clerks at your craft store should be able to answer any questions you have. You can also search for specific brand yarn weights online, where you're sure to find other knitters in search of the same information.